Blog

Events, Travel

New Project – Rob On Holiday

Anybody who read this week’s Q & A on Curled up with a good book will have seen me talking about my love of family holidays. You may have also noticed my comment about us becoming well-known at a certain hotel in Spain for our comedy holiday videos where we rope in the entertainment team and generally act the goat for the camera.

All of this leads me nicely to announcing a small side-project that was actually my eldest daughter’s idea. Lauren suggested that we re-brand her YouTube channel as “Rob On Holiday”. In addition to the aforementioned comedy videos, we’ve also undertaken a few city breaks in the last 15 months and in each case, we’ve done a fair bit of filming. Generally, this is just to capture our visit for family videos but on a recent visit to Brussels, for the first time, we specifically did a few pieces to camera. Where possible, we’ll be doing a short 5-minute video showcasing what the city has to offer, and an additional video that gives a brief overview of the hotel at which we stayed. Combined with a lot of previous footage, including trips to Disney World, and a few more city breaks in the coming months, we think that we’ll have enough material to make an interesting video channel.

We’ve also created a web site where we’ll include the finer details of various elements shown in the video. This may be a detailed report on some attraction or a city’s transport network or simply a restaurant that we visited. I’m just the figurehead for this website – most of the content will be created by my daughters Lauren and Rachel. You can find the website here:-

https://robonholiday.home.blog/

Just to be clear, this is all for a bit of fun. We are not being paid for any of this, and all views are our own. Hopefully, in addition to making the videos entertaining, we aim to be informative as well. Before we go on any city break, we do our research and this includes watching videos on YouTube. We’ve noticed that many such videos are just raw footage, aren’t edited and don’t give you much on the type of details that you really need to know: e.g. how do I use the transport system.

So, without further ado, here is our first city break video: Brussels:-

 

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Events, Writing

Q & A on Curled up with a good book

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Many thanks to Chelle over at Curled up with a good book. Not only has she reviewed both of my books, but she was also kind enough to invite me onto her site for a “Meet the Author” feature. You can read the resultant article here.

Reviews

TV Review – The Bridge

The Bridge - close-up
The Bridge Trilogy (but there is a fourth series!)

Introduction

Writing this review is difficult for two reasons. One: I’ve just watched the final episode of The Bridge series 4, and although we are in a golden age of television, I’m a little sad that I may never watch a show this good again. It’s a bold statement, but I’ll come back to this point later in the review. The second thing that makes this review difficult is how best to capture the show’s brilliance and excitement without spoiling it for potential viewers.

The Bridge is a Scandinavian drama that focuses on police departments from Copenhagen and Malmo as they collaborate on a series of murder investigations. It’s an indication of how good the concept and storyline are that it has been remade several times for US, British (as The Tunnel), German, Russian and Asian TV. However, having watched the original, I don’t think that I could bring myself to watch the others. This is not to disparage the remakes, as I’m sure that they are good shows that have their own strengths, but after watching four series of brilliant performances by the actors in the Swedish-Danish original, I’d be forever comparing with the original (and probably complaining about the remakes!)

Series One

The opening scenes of the first series explain the title of the show. The Øresund Bridge links the Swedish city of Malmö with the Danish capital, Copenhagen. When a body is found on the bridge – sliced in half at the waist and positioned so that each half lies on either side of the Sweden-Denmark border – both the Danish and Swedish police must be involved in the investigation. Saga Norén from the Malmo police department (played by Sofia Helin) and her Danish counterpart Martin Rohde (played by Kim Bodnia) meet on the bridge when the body is discovered, and this is the start of both the investigation and an intriguing working relationship between the two.

Martin comes across as amiable, but it’s quickly clear that Saga is socially awkward. Her forthright conversation astounds Martin, particular when it comes to questions about his private life and Saga’s brutal assessment of the situation. Despite this awkward start, it works because Martin somehow gets Saga, eventually warming to her outwardly cold, yet unique personality. Saga is also supported by her boss, Hans. As the series progresses, it is clear that Hans is a father-figure for Saga, often willing to take her aside for a quiet chat or relax procedure in order to get the best out of his star detective, accommodating her social inadequacies. We are also introduced to John, the IT specialist with the Malmö police, whose job it is to track mobile calls and scan CCTV footage; Jair, the pathologist in Malmo, with whom Saga appears to share a good working relationship based on her willingness to learn more about the science of his job; and Lillian, the head of police in Copenhagen.

Working together, the Danish and Swedish teams make good progress on the case. The killer phones a local journalist, using him to spread the message that he, the killer, is trying to highlight various social problems. But as the investigation progresses, it becomes clear that there is a more personal motive behind the crimes.

Like the three series that follow, series one of The Bridge is a superb piece of standalone television. It tells the story of a murder investigation from day one, right up to the shocking conclusion. The fascinating characters give the show a depth that is as good as any show that I’ve ever seen. Outstanding performances from Sofia Helin and Kim Bodnia, and the unique chemistry that they bring to the screen, make this a must-watch.

When the series finishes, you’re left with the impression that you’ve just witnessed one of the best TV shows; that it’s a lightning-in-a-bottle moment that the makers would do well to even get close to again. And then you watch the second series.

Series Two

As previously noted, the second series tells its own complete story, but the events of the previous series continue to shape what happens in the lives of Saga and Martin. Once again, we have a killer who seems hell-bent on proving a point. The police teams are fleshed out by Danish detective, Pernille, who becomes friendly with Martin, and Rasmus, a cocky young Swedish detective whose determination to succeed sees him prefer to act on impulse as opposed to following the rules. Both the new characters have significant roles as the series leads to a conclusion that is at once satisfying and devastating.

Series Three

So, that’s two series gone, and you start to experience the same feelings that you had at the end of the first. Surely, they’ve set the bar so high with the climax of series two that they should just stop. Well, my friends, gather in close for series three, because it’s a humdinger in which the events in Saga’s life that have been boiling away in the background start to affect her in significant ways. Naturally, there is another killer trying to get his message across via a series of bizarre killings and if watching Saga’s personal struggles as the police try to solve the latest crimes was all that series three offered, it would still have been a worthwhile endeavour. But that’s not all as we are introduced to The Bridge’s third major character: Henrik Sabroe.

Early in proceedings, Danish detective Henrik asks his boss, Lillian, if she will send him to Malmö to help the Swedish police crack the case. As you watch the early episodes, you’re going to be asking yourself a lot of questions as the pill-popping Henrik coolly talks to his wife before heading out into the Copenhagen night to meet other women. Once in Sweden, he asks Saga for help with an old case that he’s been working on, and as his backstory is slowly revealed over the first half of the series, it’s compelling television. For me, Thure Lindhardt’s performance as Henrik is one of the highlights of the series. He plays the role with a wonderful balance of aggression and humility, making the viewer totally buy into his story. He works well with Saga, encouraging her when she needs help but isn’t above poking fun at her – calling her “Wikipedia” when she quotes some fact at him. Also in this series, Hans and Lillian get their own story, and IT specialist John gets a nice little personal connection to the investigation.

Series Four

The final eight-episode series is every bit as good as what has gone before, and in some ways is a continuation of the previous series. As Saga helps the Danish police track down yet another killer with a grudge, the major story arcs are given a satisfying conclusion and if it feels like you’ve lived every minute of Saga’s trials and tribulations through all of the thirty-eight episodes, it’s hard not to have a lump in your throat for that final scene on the bridge. Her closing words are a stroke of genius from the show’s creator and writer, Hans Rosenfeldt.

Analysis

I’ve specifically not talked about the plots and killers in too much detail so as to avoid any spoilers, but rest assured, in each case, there is a dazzling array of characters that will keep you guessing as the police come up against lots of dead ends and red herrings. One of the show’s many strengths is how characters are fed seamlessly into the mix, quickly engaging you in the plot of their daily lives whilst wondering how, and if, they are connected to the wider story that is unfolding. Things that may seem significant often peter out whilst the reverse is also true, so keep your eyes peeled!

Not only are the writing and performances top-notch, but the production team bring a lot of style to the show. For the most part, the show is filmed in the city at night, although there is the odd excursion into rural fringes. The camera shows us modern cityscapes that appear to be in the permanent grip of autumn, a beautiful combination of Scandinavian grim and cool. There are plenty of drone shots of the city from up above, including the majestic Øresund Bridge itself. Then there is the theme song, “Hollow Talk” by Danish band Choir of Young Believers. The theme sets the tone and follows the pre-credits sequence at the start of each episode. An instrumental section reappears at the end of the episode, rising to a crescendo as, more often than not, the characters make some startling discovery that makes us re-think what we’ve seen or become excited at what this means for the next episode.

In watching The Bridge, I’ve noticed that the police officers are portrayed as normal people, dealing with many problems that, at least some of the time, regular people will be able to empathise with. However, the killers are played out more like caricatures. Although the reasons for their killing sprees are grounded in reasonable grudges, the murders are exaggerated, and the murder scenes themselves often staged, presented as artistic tableaus with some message for the police to figure out. It’s another quirk that gives the show its unique look and feel.

No overview of The Bridge would be complete without making specific reference to Sofia Helin’s performance as Saga. This must feel like the role of a lifetime to the Swedish actress. She’s playing a character suffering from a chronic social issue, and more often than not, this is written across her face. She rarely smiles across the four series, often wearing a puzzled look or fixing her features in a permanent mask of confusion or concentration. I wonder if she often went home with a headache after filming. As her story arc progresses, she brings the required level of emotion to the role, making us believe in Saga’s problems. Whilst it’s just one of the many outstanding aspects of The Bridge, there’s no doubt that it’s her show.

So, let’s get to the nub of what may be a problem for many British viewers: this is a show presented in the native languages with English subtitles. I used to have the view that I couldn’t be bothered spending my time reading subtitles, but once I watched a few films, I found that it became an automatic process, and in some ways, enhanced the experience because you were constantly focussed on the plot and what the characters were saying. The fourth and final series of The Bridge was shown last year on the BBC – the reason that I’ve taken so long to get around to watching it was that I persuaded my wife – a previous subtitle-avoider – to give it a try. “Just watch a few episodes of the first series, and see what you think,” I’d said. Naturally, she was already hooked by the end of the first episode! For various reasons – nothing to do with lack of interest – we watched the first three series over the last twelve months or so, and so I was only in a position for the grand finale recently.

Basically, what I’m saying here is that if you only ever watch one subtitled film or TV series, make sure it’s the first episode of The Bridge. I’m willing to bet that you’ll be hooked.

Final Thoughts

At the start of this article, I made some comment about being sad that I may never watch a show this good again. Each series of The Bridge was consistently excellent, and whilst there are other shows that you can say this about, I’ve not seen one where the characters are so complex yet compelling, having you emotionally invested not only in the murder case but their lives as well. Totally different type of show but Game of Thrones, for example, is a show that I love: it is consistently good across its entire span of episodes, has stupendous production values but doesn’t have me feeling the same way about the characters that The Bridge does.

Again, a different show, but since 2001, I’ve always thought of Band of Brothers as the high watermark in television – a true story that got you to engage with the characters and also had the production values of a mega-budget film. The fact that I’ve mentioned The Bridge in the same breath as these other two excellent shows demonstrates how highly I rate it. Whisper it quietly, but series 1-4 of The Bridge, a subtitled Scandinavian police drama, may be the greatest TV series ever made.

Rob Campbell is the author of “Monkey Arkwright” and “Black Hearts Rising”, part of a mystery series that will appeal to fans of 80s films such as “Stand By Me” and “The Goonies”, where people stumble across strange things in the woods or uncover dark secrets hidden in the abandoned places around a small town.

Writing

Book #3 Underway

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As I wrote Black Hearts Rising, the second book in my Wardens of the Black Heart trilogy, I posted regular updates on these pages. It occurs to me that in the excitement of writing the final part, I have neglected to post any updates. First off, I don’t have to refer to it as ‘book #3’ because as anybody who has made it to the end of Black Hearts Rising will know, I’ve already put a promise in the end of that book that Lorna and Monkey will return in The Well of Tears.

What is ‘the Well of Tears’ I hear you cry? Where is it, and what’s it got to do with what’s been happening to Lorna and Monkey so far? Naturally, all will be revealed in the heart-pounding conclusion to this epic tale. Wait a minute, did my publicist write that? No, because I haven’t got one, and if anybody has to make my books sound exciting, then it’ll have to be me!

I’ve been preparing notes for the final book in the trilogy going back to the time I was editing Black Hearts Rising in the final weeks of 2018. The main ideas were already in place before this, but in terms of setting fingers to keyboard, I began writing The Well of Tears in the middle of February. I am pleased with the progress that I am making on the first draft: 10 chapters and 21,000 words so far, which represents about a quarter of the book, maybe a little less.

I’m aiming for a similar timescale to the previous book, with an unbalanced schedule in which I try to reach the 33.% point by Easter. I’ll think about what I’ve written and lazily add the odd chapter here and there over the summer months, so that I’m about 50% done by August. When the Autumn rolls around, I’ll attack the second half with renewed energy, as this is my favourite time of the year to write. I’ll give myself three months for the necessary rewrites, edits and general tightening up, ready for a release in February/March 2020.

So, what’s The Well of Tears about? First of all, you will get a conclusion to THAT cliffhanger ending in Black Hearts Rising. Naturally, this being the final part of a trilogy, the plots that are in motion will be brought to rest in a way that I hope is both entertaining and satisfying for the reader. You’ll find out how things turn out for our heroes and also the Wardens themselves, and it wouldn’t be a Monkey Arkwright story if our titular character didn’t get to do a spot of climbing and urban exploration. I can also promise that plenty of revelations will be spilled, and there will be a desperate race for the finish line.

In the meantime, thanks for reading my blog – an even bigger thank you if you’ve read my books.

Reviews

Album Review: The Unseen In Between – Steve Gunn

The Unseen In between

Although he has been releasing music for over a decade, I’ve never had the pleasure of listening to a Steve Gunn album. However, after hearing his latest offering, The Unseen In Between, I can confidently state that I’m looking forward to exploring his back catalogue. A quick search reveals that his resume includes several solo albums, collaborations and for a short time, he was a member of Kurt Vile’s band. Gunn is an American singer-guitarist whose music has been said to have a sensibility that echoes the sound of English singer-songwriters, despite the fact that he hails from Philadelphia.

This is a wonderful album that grabbed me from the opening song, “New Moon”. Like every song that follows, the production is top-notch, with vocals and guitars nicely balanced so that one doesn’t overpower the other, and there’s just enough colour provided by other instruments to fill out the sound. Gunn is a competent rather than outstanding singer, but his stream of consciousness lyrics backed by mesmeric guitar patterns elevate the songs on this album.

Although the album is a mere nine songs long, two-thirds of the tracks run longer than five minutes, and there’s not a weak link to be found. One of the strengths of the album is that longer songs allow Gunn to stretch out with arrangements that invite the listener to become immersed in the unfolding sound, but they’re not so long that they become boring or self-indulgent. Being able to find this balance is a skill in itself.

“Vagabond” is a chipper little number that features lyrics about being “camped up in a graveyard / Took a job to clean some tombstones”. This is as close as you’ll get to a commercial-sounding song, and enjoyable though it is, the real gems are the contemplative laid-back folk-rock songs at the core of the album. “Stonehurst Cowboy”, a tribute to his late father, featuring lyrics that recall his time in Vietnam, is a strong contender for best song on the album. However, it has several rivals. That Steve Gunn is a superb guitar player is obvious, but he’s rarely flashy, often favouring a fingerpicking style on both electric and acoustic guitars, and it’s always in service of the song. “New Familiar” features hypnotic picking that loops for most of the running time before the sublime solo brings the song to a close. “Lightning Field” takes its inspiration from an art installation featuring 400 metal rods in the ground in a field in New Mexico, and like “New Familiar” closes with the guitars letting loose in the coda.

This is followed by the deceptively simple but beautifully played meditation of “Morning is Mended” before the closing track “Paranoid”, which is reminiscent of Pink Floyd. Folk-rock with a little psychedelia thrown into the mix is about as close as you’ll get to pigeonholing this superbly crafted album. As with all the best albums, The Unseen In Between rewards repeat plays as its little melodies keep appearing in your mind throughout the day, drawing you back to the record for more. It’s early in 2019, but I feel sure that this will feature high on my end-of-year list of best albums. Don’t be surprised to see it appear in the lists of some heavyweight music magazines and blogs either.

Rob Campbell is the author of “Monkey Arkwright” and “Black Hearts Rising”, part of a mystery series that will appeal to fans of 80s films such as “Stand By Me” and “The Goonies”, where people stumble across strange things in the woods or uncover dark secrets hidden in the abandoned places around a small town.

Travel

Madrid

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A couple of weeks ago, we took a family trip to Madrid. Following our enjoyable trips to Seville and Bilbao last year, I was keen to see how Spain’s capital compared to two of its other major cities.

The flight time of around 2 hours and 10 minutes from Manchester is followed by one of the longest runway taxis that I’ve ever experienced: a whole fifteen minutes to get to the stand. This was followed by a twenty-minute walk to the metro station. I suppose this is par for the course for an airport the size of Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas, which is one of Europe’s busiest. However, on the plus side, the onward journey from the metro station was a breeze. We used the ATMs to buy a three-day tourist ticket, at a cost of just over €18 each. This gives you unlimited use of Madrid’s metro, buses and overland railway in the central tourist zone. Note that it also includes the €3 Airport tax, which you would otherwise have to pay if buying individual metro tickets. You can ride pink line 8 all the way to Nuevos Ministerios in the centre of the city.

With a few trips to Spanish cities under our belts, it had become obvious that the major cities each have a fabulous transport network that is ideal for tourists. The metro system in Madrid is so good that we didn’t feel the need to use any other form of transport during our stay. Our hotel, the Claridge, is a two-minute walk from a metro station located on the grey circular line (6) so getting to the tourist hotspots was never an issue.

The Claridge itself is a four-star hotel with spacious rooms and a nice little bar. The beds are comfortable, the staff friendly and if we visit Madrid again, we won’t hesitate to stay at the same hotel. The hotel is also situated less than a mile from El Retiro Park (more on this later), although tired feet meant that we never actually walked!

First up on our trip was the Puerta del Sol with its famous statue of the bear and the strawberry tree (El Oso y el Madroño). A short walk away is the Plaza Mayor, a major meeting point sure to be crowded later in the day and evening, but virtually empty at this early hour.

Next up was the Reina Sofia Museum. This forms one-third of Madrid’s famous “Golden Triangle of Art”, the other museums being the Prado and the Thyssen-Bornemisza. With our visit lasting just under 48 hours, we decided to visit one museum and picked the Reina Sofia because it is home to perhaps Spain’s most famous work of art: Guernica by Pablo Picasso. Created in response to the fascist bombing of the town of Guernica in the Basque Country during the Spanish Civil War, the large canvas has become an iconic anti-war symbol known throughout the world. The mural-sized painting depicts a collage of unsettling images, amongst them a bull, screaming heads and dismembered body parts. Standing in silence in front of these powerful images with about thirty other people is a sombre experience. Elsewhere in the museum, I enjoyed some works by surrealist Salvador Dali. I was also fascinated by the architecture of the museum. Built around an 18th-century hospital building, an extension was opened in 2005. The way in which the glass and steel of the new building are fused with the original stonework makes for some interesting photos.

Leaving the Reina Sofia Museum and heading to El Retiro Park, it is worth passing the Caixa Forum building, which features a vertical garden on one of its walls.

As befits a major European capital, Madrid is full of grand buildings, statues and monuments. We decided to take the longer route to El Retiro Park so that we could take in a few of these famous sites. Walking up the Paseo del Prado, a beautiful tree-lined boulevard, and past the Prado Museum, the first of two majestic fountains is the Fuente de Neptuno. Then, on the right, is the Monumento a los Héroes del Dos de Mayo (Monument to the Heroes of the Second of May). Originally built in homage to those who died in the 2nd May uprising in 1808, since 1985, the monument has served as a memorial for all who have given their lives for Spain and features an eternal flame. Further up the road is the Fuente de Cibeles: like the previous fountain, this sits in a traffic island in the middle of a busy intersection, so a good zoom lens is the key to getting a shot.

P1050920In fact, this is a good spot to stop and get a few photos of the city. In addition to the fountain, there’s the Palacio de Cibeles, which is basically the town hall, but on a slightly grander scale than most town halls around the world. (In checking the names for this article, I discovered that the palace has a cultural centre and a viewing terrace that is accessible to the public! I wish I’d known when we were there as apparently, the views of the Gran Via are spectacular). Opposite the palace, if you look down the Calle de Alcalá, you can see the iconic black dome of the Metropolis building.

After snapping some photos, we turned right and headed towards the park. Just outside the gates is the Puerta de Alcalá, a triumphal arch that is similar in style to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, but this Spanish version predates its more famous cousin by more than twenty years.

When we finally reached El Retiro Park, we were not disappointed. This large open space is a public park and is, therefore, free to enter. We all agreed that walking around this wonderful green space was our favourite highlight of Madrid. Like the rest of the city, the theme of majestic monuments continues inside the park, none more so than the monument to King Alfonso XII, which overlooks the lake that dominates the park. Whilst the area around the lake was bustling with people when we visited on Saturday afternoon, most of the park was much quieter, and there are plenty of walkways where you can stroll peacefully, escaping the busy city.

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Other highlights that the park has to offer include the Paseo de la Argentina (a walkway with statues), the garden surrounding the Jacinto Benavente Monumento, the Fuente del Ángel Caído (Fountain of the Fallen Angel) and the magnificent Palacio de Cristal, a giant conservatory made almost entirely of iron and glass, set next to a picturesque lake. There are plenty of cafes dotted throughout the park, so you’ll never be far from a coffee or snack. We stopped twice for churros and also had a refreshing sangria near the crystal palace.

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After a short rest back at the hotel, it was time to see Madrid by night. Before our trip, I’d read that the Templo de Debod was a spot favoured by the locals to watch the sunset. The temple, an Egyptian original that was gifted to Spain by Egypt in thanks for its help in saving some of its notable sites, is set on a raised outcrop that overlooks the west of Madrid.

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I can confirm that the western sky, in all its brilliant colours, is indeed a spectacular sight.

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Heading back into the city, we stopped in the Plaza de España to see the Cervantes monument with the statues of the Spanish writer’s most famous characters, Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. There were another two beautiful fountains here – we’ve noticed that Madrid does love a good fountain!

I’m pretty sure that Madrid is always busy on a Saturday night, but given that this was a few hours after the Real-Atlético Madrid derby, plus the fact that political demonstrators were mobilising ahead of a rally the next day, tonight seemed particularly vibrant and colourful.

Sunday kicked off with a visit to the Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas, Madrid’s bullring. This is an impressive building with some nice statues on the outside. However, I have to say that overall, we were disappointed with our visit. When we arrived, we were told that there were renovations in progress and that we wouldn’t be able to walk out into the centre of the ring. This had been one of our favourite elements of our visit to Seville’s bullring, and to see the centre covered in a large plastic greenhouse-type cover detracted from the views of this famous arena. I accept that maintenance has to be performed at some stage, but given that we’d pre-booked online, there should have been a warning on the website – if there was, I didn’t see it. As an interesting side note, I see that the bullring has hosted some major music concerts including one by The Beatles in 1965.

Later in the day, we visited the Palacio Real de Madrid. Whilst still the official residence of the Spanish royal family, the palace is now only used for official state occasions. This is good news for the tourist because it means that the general public can get a look around the inside of this impressive building. There’s a small but beautiful garden in the walk up to the palace (Plaza de Oriente) and a whole host of street performers, many of whom form some impressive living statues, having covered their bodies in a substance that makes them look like stone statues come to life when they do eventually move. It’s interesting to see how close the local apartments and houses are to the palace, which has no wall on the east side. If you lived in one of these buildings, you could at one point in history have legitimately claimed that the King of Spain was your next-door-neighbour!

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Once again, we’d pre-booked online, and this was useful given that there were two queues waiting to go in – the general admission queue was pretty long, snaking across the Plaza de la Armería that the palace shares with the adjacent Almudena cathedral – but we were able to head straight in.

Inside, you can wander around the large courtyard, snapping some impressive photos of the façade and the cathedral across the plaza. Inside, you wander around a pre-defined tour route that takes the visitor through more than twenty rooms. Some of the frescos and artistic ceilings in the palace are a sight to behold. I caught myself admiring the incredible detail on the ceiling of one of the rooms, only to look down and see a note that said this was simply the anteroom for a more impressive space next door! You can also view the Spanish throne and crown – the equivalent of the crown jewels in England.

Our final stop was the Jardines de Sabatini, which is situated immediately north of the palace. This is a beautifully kept public gardens with an ornamental pond, some walkways and yet more statues. Standing at the edge of the pond, you can get a lovely photo of the garden with the palace in the background.

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There’s so much to do in Madrid that it was difficult to choose what to do and what to leave out. Having three non-football fans in the family, I was out-voted when I suggested Real Madrid’s world-famous Bernabéu Stadium. Then there’s Madrid Río Park and the cable car. I haven’t specifically mentioned the food because we’re a conservative family when it comes to dining, but there is an abundance of places to eat, with plenty of tapas bars and other Spanish-flavoured eateries. Madrid is a colourful and vibrant city, full of magnificent buildings and monuments, and I’d heartily recommend adding it to your list of city breaks. I have a feeling that we’re not done with the city yet, and I look forward to our next visit.

Rob Campbell is the author of “Monkey Arkwright” and “Black Hearts Rising”, part of a mystery series that will appeal to fans of 80s films such as “Stand By Me” and “The Goonies”, where people stumble across strange things in the woods or uncover dark secrets hidden in the abandoned places around a small town.